You never want to make too much of any regular season series, but it is early August and the fact the Los Angeles Dodgers just dumped two straight home games to the Colorado Rockies, with the series finale going tonight is about a big a disappointment as you can have for this time of year. Its part and parcel of what’s been a disappointing home stand for the new-look Dodgers and all the veterans they’ve brought in for the stretch drive.
Hanley Ramirez got his Dodger career off to a sterling start with a game-winning home run against San Francisco, but the overall body of work of 50 at-bats out west shows him hitting .240 with that initial long ball being the only time he’s left the park. Shane Victorino, brought in from Philadelphia at the deadline has only had a week with the club, so it’s certainly unfair to judge the move at this time. But the change in scenery didn’t inspire a Kevin Youkilis-esque return to form for the outfielder, as he’s just 5-for-25 in Dodger Blue.
The best of the new acquisitions has been Joe Blanton, the veteran righthanded starter, who pitched well in a Sunday win over the Chicago Cubs. But Blanton came at a price. To make room for him on the roster, Los Angeles set down Stephen Fife, a young pitcher who’d posted a 2.16 ERA in three starts. Shipping Fife back to Triple A to pave the way for a veteran with a 4.52 ERA is the worst kind of thinking any team can have at the trade deadline, much less one that was committed to building for the long haul when the season began.
Los Angeles is still just a game and a half back of San Francisco, as the entire NL West seems to be wallowing along and playing itself out of the wild-card picture. The Dodgers are four back of the Atlanta Braves for the second wild-card spot, although the margin in the loss column is five.
There is good news in Dodgerland, so it wouldn’t paint an accurate picture if I dwelt on short-term negatives. Matt Kemp looks like the Kemp of the early season. 22-year-old catcher A.J. Ellis continues to hit well, and even though Andre Ethier’s power has been down since the All-Star break, he’s got a .354 on-base percentage and when good hitters keep getting on base, the power usually comes back.
Even better is the work of Chad Billingsley. The inconsistent righthander has been brilliant of late, with a 0.59 ERA in his last three starts. If Los Angeles can get him pitching like a top-of-the-line starter and pair him up with Clayton Kershaw, they can survive a fairly pedestrian division race. The Dodgers need Billingsley, but the jig appears to be up for Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang, each of whom have ERAs in the high 4s since the break.
Ultimately though, Los Angeles shoved all its chips on the table to win this year and I don’t think Magic Johnson’s ownership group had a one-and-done wild-card loss in mind. This team needs to at least win the NL West or at least win the wild-card game.
Los Angeles leaves for a ten-game road trip that includes a big four-game set in Pittsburgh, games that will be vital if the Dodgers are going to have any kind of wild-card possibilities down the stretch. When they return home San Francisco will be waiting. Unless Hanley, Victorino and a recently inconsistent bullpen (Kenley Jansen has blown three of last nine save chances) get in gear, the win-now mindset is going to blow up.